Water Funds Biennial In Bogotá Celebrates Successes

In the next decade we’ll see more scaling up and efforts to build policy support

By Adrian Vogl | August 24, 2016

Credit: Leo Rivas-Micoud/Unsplash

Sitting in a crowded auditorium on a cool, rainy June day in Bogotá, Colombia, I could feel excitement in the air as the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, prepared to take the stage for the opening address of the 3rd Water Funds Biennial Summit. It was a morning of VIP speakers, including the CEO of FEMSA Foundation, President of the Inter-American Development Bank, and President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, there to celebrate the achievements of the Latin America Water Funds Partnership and to look ahead to the decade to come.

Even Colombian music superstar Carlos Vives (singer of the summer hit Bicicleta with fellow Colombian Shakira) was there to speak out in support of a particular kind of collaborative movement that has been building across Latin America: bringing people together around their most basic need–water–and using nature to help ensure clean, flowing water to communities and businesses.

What I heard at this gathering over the next three days convinced me that there is a growing, diverse, and most importantly, a pragmatic community, who are ready to roll up their sleeves and make the idea of water funds work not just in Latin America, but in watersheds all over the world.

Louise Stafford, who works for the City of Cape Town, South Africa, described the water challenges facing her city. Cape Town gets over 98% of its water supply from watersheds that lie outside the city. Water quality is suffering from sedimentation, nutrient pollution, and invasive aquatic plants. At the same time, demand for water is growing, and they’re dealing with huge levels of poverty and inequality. City officials have been trying for years to resolve clean water shortages from a single-sector perspectivemanaging water supply and managing natural systems separately. But at the Biennial, Louise spoke about the potential for a water fund to be the mechanism that can finally bring all the different interests together in a neutral negotiating space, and to tackle their problems of water quality, habitat degradation, and rural poverty in an integrated way.

 

Along with TNC’s Jorge Leon and others from TNC and The International Center for Tropical Agriculture, (CIAT), Vogl led a hands-on session on tools and models for water funds design, attended by GIS technicians, consultants, academics, and urban planners. “We showed people how, with a few freely-available models (NatCap’s RIOS, InVEST and the USDA-ARS’s SWAT), water funds could quickly and easily explore different options for meeting their water quality targets. They could also see how different choices they make—about which partners to engage and what compromises to make—will affect outcomes,” Vogl said. Credit: Adrian Vogl

The power of water funds, she noted, lies in how they provide a way to engage people from different backgrounds, with different priorities and interests, along with influential actors from the highest levels down to local governance. Water funds are a way to share responsibilities and accountability for water security among all.

It was an idea I heard repeated again and again by countless speakers over the next three days. The last 10 years have provided a testing ground to show how the idea of water funds can motivate collective action. The challenge for the next decade will be to scale up and build broader policy support to overcome remaining legal obstacles.

I believe that open discussion of successes and challenges, scientific rigor (exemplified by the Biennial), and ongoing efforts to build local capacity for managing sustainable source watersheds will be essential to the success of the next phase of water fund development in Latin America and throughout the world. The Natural Capital Project will continue our work to provide practical solutions that bring science into water fund design and implementation and to build capacity among partners and advocates of this approach. With all of passion of this incredible group of people behind them, I believe the next Biennial in 2018 will be a celebration of water funds as a truly global movement for change.

Adrian Vogl

Adrian Vogl

SENIOR SCIENTIST, THE NATURAL CAPITAL PROJECT

Adrian is leading application of the InVEST models for watershed services, and developing decision support models for spatial planning, permitting new infrastructure projects and mitigation, and targeting investments in watershed conservation. Adrian co-led development of the RIOS tool, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the Latin American Water Funds Platform. In addition, Adrian is leading efforts to link the InVEST economic valuation approach with outputs from other hydrologic models. Before joining the Natural Capital Project, Adrian worked in central Texas developing land-use planning decision support tools that incorporate freshwater and groundwater ecosystem services, land development, and conservation planning. Adrian received her Ph.D. in Aquatic Resources from Texas State University-San Marcos, and her B.A. from the University of Arizona in Cultural Anthropology.